© Benjamin Lowy
I've always wanted to cover war, both from a professional
standpoint and because I believe that the inhumanity of man needs
to be documented. Getting an assignment let me-a young photographer
with little previous experience-do that.
Before the war, I waited in Kuwait with all the other embed
journalists and American forces. For the first month of the war, I
was with the 101st Airborne. I was actually in a tent behind the
grenade attack at Camp Pennsylvania on March 23, 2003. When this
boom shook the ground, we started putting our gas masks on because
you just had no idea. A Scud missile alert went off. I grabbed my
camera and started shooting, capturing the arrest of the U.S.
soldier suspected in the attack.
We witnessed the clearing of Najaf, the taking of Saddam Airport, and the looting of Baghdad. I kind of pushed myself to the front, letting the first two or three go in and then I come in behind them, I have to weigh the risks.
Because I'm around the same age as the soldiers, I made a lot of friends on this assignment. We each did our thing, working together and knowing each other's limits. During the grenade attack, when I saw people I knew get injured I wanted to help, but I had to tell myself that's not what I'm good at. I'm a photographer.
Following the war, I based myself in Baghdad, and drove to different locations throughout the country over the course of five months.
I relied heavily on my two Nikon D1x digital cameras, an Apple IBook, a Rbgan satellite, a Lind powerpack, power inverters, and Iridium and Thuriya satellite phones, among other devices. After downloading my digital cards and editing my day's take, transmitting my images via satellite took an average of an hour each day.
War is an aspect of humanity, a violence we will always perpetrate on each other, no matter what time or place. But to remain a civilized society, we have to remember, have to give voice to the horrors we've created. Photography is, for me, the medium to document what I see around me.
I think the embeds, while allowing the public to see American troops in action like never before, did not reveal another important side of the story-the Iraqi public. And while embedding gave me the opportunity to do this work, I, and most of the American public, did not see an equal coverage of the war.
Risking your life for a photograph is a very personal choice that each photographer and journalist must make on their own. For me, it's about dedication to my profession.
Steve McCurry (www.stevemccurry.com), member of Magnum Photos since 1986, has covered international and civil conflicts, including Iran-Iraq war, Beirut, Cambodia, the Philippines, Gulf War, and Afghanistan. Awarded Magazine Photographer of the Year from the National Press Photographers Association; four first prizes in the same year from World Press Photo Contest; the Olivier Rebbot Memorial Award twice. Career launched when he crossed Pakistan border into Afghanistan in native garb-rolls of film sewn into his clothes-just before Russian invasion; coverage won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad. Articles frequently appear in National Geographic.
Owner of an arms store. Darra, Pakistan.
© Steve McCurry
An Afghan high school girl holding her book, while passing a terrorist poster.
© Steve McCurry
Whenever I go on assignment, most of my images are grounded in
people. I try to convey what it's like to be that person, a person
caught in a broader landscape. No question, a high point for me was
rediscovering the Afghan refugee girl, Sharbat Gula, after almost
two decades. When we finally located her, her skin was weathered;
there are wrinkles now, but she is as striking as she was when I
first saw her.
[Editor's Note: Our cover is McCurry's 2002 image of a 10-year-old Afghan refugee girl living in Peshawar, Pakistan, has never seen her homeland. Like Sharbat, her face is a poignant reflection of the turmoil that has scarred her young life.]